asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he has yet received the report of the Committee under Sir Harold Banwell which is inquiring into the practices adopted for the placing and management of contracts for buildings and civil engineering projects.
I have received an interim report in the form of a letter from the Chairman, Sir Harold Banwell. I will, with permission, circulate the full text in the Official Report.
The interim report recommends the greater use of selective tendering by local authorities. The Government accept the Committee's recommendations in principle and will immediately arrange further discussions with the local authority associations.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he means by "selective tendering"? Does he appreciate that there has been a lot of public tendering and that there is a feeling abroad that there is far too much log-rolling among friends and friends' friends? What does he mean by "selective tendering"? Will the right hon. Gentleman also address himself to whether the old-fashioned form of tendering might not be looked at again?
That is exactly what the Committee has been looking at. It has made recommendations which are set out in detail in its letter, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will read with interest. By "selective tendering" I mean tendering off a list of selected firms as distinct from open competitive tendering.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that already there seems to be an abuse by which privileged contractors seem to enjoy more than their fair share of work, often undertaking contracts far beyond their capacity? Would he not do much better to recommend that the burden of work should be more widely distributed, so that smaller firms could also have access to some of these contracts?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will submit some evidence to the Committee which is considering these matters. I do not accept what he says. If, however, he has information on particular instances of abuse I will gladly investigate them.
Selective tendering has been used by your Ministry since 1939 as a suitable form of competitive tendering procedure for many kinds of building and construction work undertaken on the Ministry's behalf. The Simon Committee in 1944 recommended selective tendering as the most advantageous form of competitive tendering for building work, and this view has been supported in a number of subsequent reports by independent committees.
Having regard to the large programme of work involving public expenditure now in contemplation, and without anticipating the contents of our ultimate report to you, we consider as a Committee that in the public interest it is desirable that further steps should be taken by the Government Departments concerned to encourage Local Authorities to adopt the same practice in regard to tendering as that now used by your Ministry. We understand that this may mean the amendment of existing Standing Orders and Financial Regulations by individual Local Authorities and the possible consideration of a Code of Tendering Practice suitable for Local Government on the lines of the Code published by the National Joint Consultative Committee of Architects, Quantity Surveyors and Builders in 1959. These matters can well be settled in discussion between the Ministries concerned and the Associations of Local Authorities, and we believe that some steps in this direction have already been taken.
Talks of this nature sire apt to be rather time consuming. If Local Authorities are to be given the advantage of this greater freedom in relation to the programme of work which confronts them, then a clear lead must be given by the Government Departments concerned and the discussion to which we have referred expedited. We are making you aware of our views on this particular question so as to avoid the possibility of further delay.